New UC Regent Sparks Controversy about Diversity on Board

Photo courtesy of Steve Rhodes. Link to photo license.

In one of his final acts as Governor of California, Jerry Brown appointed Jonathan “Jay” Sures to the University of California Board of Regents on Jan. 4. Brown’s appointment of another white male representative raised concerns from students about the lack of diversity on the board.

Sures, a UCLA graduate and current co-president of United Talent Agency (UTA), has spent most of his career representing Hollywood figures and journalists. From 2005 to 2006, he served as an assistant visiting professor at the UCLA School of Theatre, Film, and Television. He is also vice chair of UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center and treasurer of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, an organization of the entertainment community that raises awareness of social issues through philanthropy.

Sures will fulfill the remaining year of Bonnie Reiss’ term through March 1, 2020, unless reappointed by Governor Gavin Newsom. Reiss died of cancer in April 2018.

The UC Board of Regents is responsible for making important administrative and financial decisions, which includes overseeing major educational initiatives, appointing campus chancellors, and appropriating funds across the UC system.

In July 2018, “Left Out,” a study released by the Campaign for College Opportunity, found that the composition of governor-appointed UC Regents is disproportionately white and male. Despite Sures’ extensive leadership experience, student leaders in the UC system questioned whether the makeup of the board accurately represents the demographics of UC students.

The UC Board of Regents has 18 governor-appointed members. With the recent addition of Sures, the appointed board consists of eight white men and three white women, making up 61 percent of the group. The other members consist of four Latinx members, two African Americans (evenly divided between men and women), and one Asian American woman.

According to the UC Office of the President (UCOP), only 22 percent of enrolled undergraduates are white. Asian American students comprise 34 percent of the population, the highest in the UC system, and Latinx students come second at 24 percent. UC student enrollment is 52 percent female, but only 35 percent of the UC Board of Regents are women.

UCOP’s diversity report also shows that concerns about diversity are not limited to the UC Board of Regents. In 2018, white people held on average 64 percent of all faculty positions at every UC campus. UCSD was not an exception to this trend: 69 percent of the university’s academic personnel were white, 20 percent were Asian/Pacific Islander, and only 6 percent were Chicanx/Latinx. In contrast, Asian/Pacific Islander and Chicanx/Latinx students made up 49 percent and 18 percent of the university’s student body, respectively.

Sures’ strong ties to the entertainment industry in Los Angeles have also heightened the debate regarding the exclusion of less privileged communities on the UC Board of Regents. In an opinion submission to The Sacramento Bee in early 2018, Fred Ruiz, a former regent from the central valley, called on Brown to appoint another regent from the Central Valley.

“This is a really important issue,” Ruiz told The Fresno Bee in 2016. “We need to have somebody from the Central Valley to be a voice to the Regents.”

In April 2018, the Associated Students of UC Merced (UCM) passed a resolution in support of a San Joaquin Valley regent, but their calls for representation were ignored by Governor Brown.

Southern California is currently represented by 13 regents on the board; 6 of whom are from Los Angeles. The Modesto Bee has recently commented that while the Los Angeles Basin has one representative for every 1.9 million people, the San Joaquin Valley has none for its 4.2 million residents. Ruiz was the last regent to represent the valley.

“By appointing a UC regent from the Valley, the governor would not just check a demographic or geographic box, Ruiz said in his Op-Ed to The Sacramento Bee. “He would signal that in our vast, diverse state, it is possible for the next generation of academic and economic leaders to succeed regardless of where they are from.”

Thi Nguyen is a Staff Writer for The Triton.